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Excitement, and trepidation, on Tyler Glasnow’s quick road to recovery

John Romano | The Rays righthander has to weigh the risks of pitching in a pennant race barely 13 months after Tommy John surgery.
Tyler Glasnow's ceiling is so ridiculously high, the Rays on Friday signed him to a two-year deal for $30.35 million, including a team-record $25 million for the 2024 season.
Tyler Glasnow's ceiling is so ridiculously high, the Rays on Friday signed him to a two-year deal for $30.35 million, including a team-record $25 million for the 2024 season. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 27, 2022|Updated Aug. 27, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly three hours before the national anthem, and the dugout is bustling. The entire coaching staff and a good portion of the pitching staff are there, dressed in shorts and shower shoes.

The Rays’ team president is on the field, and the general manager, too. Reporters, photographers and ushers have stopped what they were doing, and even some Angels players have ventured out.

Except for the Tom Petty song playing on the public address system, Tropicana Field is mostly silent as two minor leaguers prepare to face a long-haired pitcher in a long-sleeved T-shirt on his 29th birthday.

Thwack! The first pitch lands in the catcher’s mitt.

Just like that, Tyler Glasnow is back.

Back from surgery, back from rehab, back from months of relative seclusion. Back from frustration, back from fears, back from that vile purgatory of suspended dreams.

Since the start of 2019, Tyler Glasnow has been among the most dominant pitchers in the game, with an ERA of 2.80 and an average of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
Since the start of 2019, Tyler Glasnow has been among the most dominant pitchers in the game, with an ERA of 2.80 and an average of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The Tampa Bay baseball world had tuned in to watch that afternoon, for there is something both magical and mysterious about Glasnow’s abilities on a mound. A fastball that flirts with 100 mph, a curveball that bends around the block and an elbow that occasionally cries in protest. His ceiling is so ridiculously high, the Rays on Friday signed him to a two-year deal for $30.35 million, including a team-record $25 million for the 2024 season.

Since the start of 2019, Glasnow has been among the most dominant pitchers in the game, with an ERA of 2.80 and an average of 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Only a handful of starters can match those numbers, and they have names such as Scherzer, deGrom, Verlander and Cole.

The difference is those guys, some with their own health problems, have started between 58 and 100 games in that span. Glasnow has been limited to 37 regular-season starts.

Here’s another way of looking at it:

Shane McClanahan is four years younger, made his first big-league start 16 months ago and has already thrown more innings in a Rays uniform than Glasnow has in the past 49 months.

And yet there was a calmness about Glasnow after that initial 21-pitch batting practice session. Almost a Zen-like appreciation for the journey he’s been on, and the potential that lies ahead.

Facing his first live hitters in 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Tyler Glasnow touched 97 mph on the radar gun in a brief batting practice session at Tropicana Field on Tuesday.
Facing his first live hitters in 14 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Tyler Glasnow touched 97 mph on the radar gun in a brief batting practice session at Tropicana Field on Tuesday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
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“I know this is like a (crappy) saying, but it is what it is, I guess,” Glasnow said. “I went through some of those (angry) moments and, believe me, it stinks getting hurt, but when you’re 6-foot-8 and throw 100 (mph), it was almost like it was inevitable. And I was dealing with it for a couple of years, so what did I expect? At least I was still throwing well. At least I didn’t suck for a long time and then got hurt.

“I was pitching well, I got hurt, the team picked me up, and I thought, ‘Alright, I can handle this.’”

He handled it. That’s the simple way to say it. The more accurate way is to say he endured, sweated, coped, worked and, eventually, beat it.

It’s been a little more than 12 months since he had Tommy John surgery — which included inserting a brace in his elbow — and now Glasnow could be days away from starting a minor league rehab assignment. That’s not quite a miraculous recovery, but it’s pretty speedy by MLB standards.

And when you see Glasnow up close, you can understand why. He’s all muscles and limbs. He’s got washboard abs that look prosthetically created.

He’s been showing up at Tropicana Field 4-5 days a week and working a couple of hours each morning in the weight room while his teammates were on the road or preparing for games.

Tyler Glasnow talks with minor league catcher Angel Galarraga before pitching live batting practice ahead Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
Tyler Glasnow talks with minor league catcher Angel Galarraga before pitching live batting practice ahead Tuesday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Workouts ranged from recovery to routine to intense. Later, he would begin the gradual process of throwing, building arm strength, throwing fastballs and then re-introducing breaking pitches.

Bryan King is the Rays’ rehab specialist for strength and conditioning and has spent months with Glasnow in the weight room, sometimes offering suggestions, occasionally providing encouragement, but never needing to worry about motivation.

“Glas has a really good understanding of what he likes, and how his body responds. He knows where he’s at in his career and knows how to steer the ship,” King said. “He’s always been like this, always looked like this. The genes are good, but so is the work ethic.

“He just has that stature, that aesthetic look. He’s what, 6-7 or 6-8, and he’s chiseled. It’s like looking at a Greek god. He is impressive, no doubt about that.”

The only question remaining is how his arm responds as Glasnow ramps up his throwing in the next month. He’ll likely do another live batting practice or two before switching to a minor league rehab.

Tyler Glasnow waves to fans after catching the ceremonial first pitch before a game against the Angels Monday at Tropicana Field.
Tyler Glasnow waves to fans after catching the ceremonial first pitch before a game against the Angels Monday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Since no two arms and no two surgeries are identical, it’s impossible to know if Glasnow will continue on this relatively accelerated pace forward. If all goes well, there is a chance he could be ready to pitch 2-3 innings at a time by late September.

And if the Rays were out of contention, that would hardly be worth talking about. But with the possibility of postseason play in October, the idea of Glasnow providing six outs or more as an opener could be intriguing, and incredibly valuable, for Tampa Bay.

Because he knows how much work it took to get in this position, Glasnow is adamant that he isn’t going to screw it up by pushing himself beyond common sense.

In the days immediately after blowing out his elbow last year, he talked about the All Star Games and Cy Young Award opportunities he was missing out on. And as the time frame for those goals has continued to shorten, Glasnow is determined not to jeopardize a career that still has more promise than production.

“I know I get to play a game for a living, so this is not that big of a deal. But this is my livelihood. This has got to be the No. 1 thing I care about, so I’m not going to risk it,” Glasnow said. “At the same time, I’m super appreciative of the Rays. I’ve thought about that a lot during the rehab process. I’m happy to be here because, as far as recovery goes, this is best place to get your stuff back.

“I’m working with (pitching coach Kyle Snyder), and I just feel so comfortable and so in tune. It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s do this together.’ I’ve had some ups and downs, but I’m in a good place right now.”

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